I’ve been playing Dragon Age 2 slightly obsessively recently. I’ve played it through end-to-end, doing all the side quests and DLC 4 times in the last couple of months (I said obsessively). There’s a bunch of reasons: the sequel’s out later in the year, and a dead Xbox meant I’d lost my previous save, so obviously I needed at least one save to start off with. I hadn’t played it in a few years. I consider it the ne plus ultra of the current generation of computer RPGs. (The only game I’ve played that remains better is the obvious – Planescape: Torment. Obviously, the Mass Effect games are great, too, but DA2 hits just about every note right for me.) And I didn’t have a lot else to do, apparently.
The game offers 3 “personalities” in its dialogue choices. Once I’d decided to play it through more than once, I decided I would play it through as each personality type, specifically and exclusively – rather than my usual method , of picking which response felt most appropriate at the time to the character I’d mentally decided I was playing (and yes, I do attempt to play computer RPGs as if they were a “proper” roleplaying game). What surprised me was how much the game experience felt different as I played with the different personality types. I definitely had more fun playing it with the “sarcastic/funny” personality option that I did with the “agressive/bit-of-a-dick” personality, and I actually found my opinions of the various companions changing with each play through, even though they remained objectively unchanged. For example I liked Aveline a great deal more when I was playing the “teeth-achingly noble” option than I did as either of the others. (And indeed, in the game’s tracking of these things she liked me a lot more, too.)
So this got me thinking about LARP. About the views people develop of other characters, and of the game. How the game can seem different, when viewed through they eyes of different characters. I’m not quite talking about bleed here – the phenomenon where ones own emotions can get stirred up by a characters’ and vice-versa – but more about perception.
I see it all the time in a variety of contexts – players who talk about other characters or situations in certain terms that are clearly influenced by their character’s perceptions. They come to believe that the objective OOC reality of what is going on with the game matches, or is at least closer to, what the character believes IC, and indeed, they can become quite vocal in defending that view as correct, and that anyone who thinks differently is objectively wrong.
The phenomenon is obviously related to bleed, but I don’t think it’s quite the same thing – I regard bleed as a phenomenon where ones IC opinions of someone else’s character influence their opinions of the player, rather than their opinions of the game reality, if that makes sense. There are a lot of known techniques for encouraging and then dispelling bleed, but there seems to be a bit of an allergy to the idea that a LARP can even have an “objective reality” – because each player experiences it within their own IC-mediated lens, the common suggestion is that there is no “objective fact” in a LARP, which I think is a convenient way of dismissing the issue because it’s quite hard to get to grips with. (I’m using “issue” rather than problem, because I don’t think it’s a problem per se – it’s an interesting fact of the medium, that I think merits more thought.)
One of the reasons it occupies my thoughts is that as a ref, I feel a strong duty to be fair, by whatever lights “fair” is reckoned with the context of a given LARP. The idea that an IC-mediated lens might actually colour people’s OOC perceptions of whether or not the events of a game were adjudicated fairly is one that concerns me. It see it as part of my job to set a baseline “objective reality” of the LARP and to adjudicate with reference to that, when called on to to so. (Perhaps that’s terribly self-aggrandising of me – I know that no player will ever experience that “Objective Reality”, but I feel it should still be there.)
This isn’t just about rules mechanics, either – the games I run tend to revolve around moral themes, and there tend to be in-character consequences for moral transgressions that are not strictly systemised – for example, in Restitution the act of killing was a dreadful crime that carried long term consequences for anyone who did it. If one character had killed someone utterly consequence-free, that would have been thematically “unfair” as far as the moral universe of the game was constructed.
I’m also aware that I do make mistakes in the moment, ones that I can’t always walk back, so it’s true to say that I am not always “fair”. So it’s important to me that I develop tools for working out when a player’s IC perceptions are colouring their opinion of my decision making, and when they’ve actually got a point. At the moment, I don’t really have any other reference than my own judgement. One to think about anyway…